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The unhappy Tory family mustn't turn on itself

By Tim Montgomerie
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Circular firing squad

Exhibit A: "Having been an office holder in the Conservative party for fifty-three years, I find it difficult to remember a time when the party’s leader in government failed consistently to chime with the natural instincts of our supporters." From Brian Binley MP.

Exhibit B: "I’ve always wanted to believe that “better inside the tent” was a sensible approach to the Rabid Right and that the Conservative Party had a social duty to house, sedate and, so far as possible, neutralise the irreconcilist elements on its side of the spectrum: a sort of care-in-the-community role... How much tolerance should the party’s leadership show (and how much attention should commentators give) to MPs whose mandate has been centrist, who would not have been elected except to a centrist party, but who spend time between elections chucking rocks at the very moderation that brings in their vote? Challenged, they have the cheek to growl and whimper about “the party’s instincts”. That their tiny claimed sounding-board for these instincts (a panel of typically less than 100 serious activists) should echo their own views is unsurprising, given that the local MP has spent a career repelling from party membership anyone under 70 who isn’t a spittle-flecked, obsessively anti-European, immigrant-hating social and cultural reactionary." From Matthew Parris in The Times (£).

It wouldn't have been difficult to list Exhibits C to Z. There are so many on and off the record examples of Tory MPs and commentators bashing the Tory leadership and of Cameroon commentators and allies bashing the PM's critics. The big question is how long can we go on like this? If the party doesn't start to heal soon we could be on the verge of an historic split of Britain's centre right vote. Not a 50/50 split but an 80/20 split with enough of our core supporters and activists drifting off to UKIP to make the election of a Tory government impossible for a generation. It might be that Nigel Farage's opinion poll momentum is a temporary phenomenon but do you want to bet on it?

Screen Shot 2012-12-17 at 08.25.55The most important immediate advice I offer to my fellow Conservatives - especially the leadership - is to ignore the advice offered by the usually brilliant Matthew Parris. Instead I argue that Margaret Thatcher should be Team Cameron's model. This is what I write in today's Times (£):

"While regularly assailed by Tory wets she also had to manage Tory rightwingers with hardline views on homosexuality, race and capital punishment. She didn’t seek to expel them from the party. She didn’t sneer at them. She didn’t paint them into corners from which they couldn’t escape. She knew that while they might not speak for a majority of the country or even a majority of the Tory vote, she could not achieve a winning margin without their support.

Late into the night she would send handwritten letters to her MPs, addressing their concerns. She would invite her MPs into No 10 and over a glass or two of whisky express empathy and massage their sometimes large egos. Until her latter days in office, when she listened less and less, she did enough to keep most wings of her party happy. The reward was a united Right, more fortuitously, a divided Left and three historic election-winning Tory coalitions."

Beyond then Cameron must address at least three fundamental and related questions:

  1. He must give his much awaited speech on Europe and it must be bold in vision. He must commit to serious renegotiation as part of his desire to stay an EU member. He must, however, promise an In/Out referendum that will empower him in those renegotiations and put a lid on UKIP. He must introduce legislation for a referendum in this parliament even if it is scheduled for the next.
  2. He must set out a path to economic recovery. We need more than a deficit strategy. Conservatives need an economic policy that convinces people that we are the party of long-term prosperity and job creation. We must meet the 'double lock' challenge of being seen as the party of prosperity and social solidarity.
  3. He must convince that he wants to win the next election and has a strategy to deliver victory. The recent appointments of Lynton Crosby, of Neil O'Brien and the targeting of Lib Dem seats are encouraging in this regard.

On another occasion I'll look at all three of those challenges.

> Bruce Anderson today: Parris and Portillo are wrong to disdain the views of grassroot Tories


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